What’s new and different from last season for the 2021-22 skiing and riding season?

It all depends which area you go to, says Jessyca Keeler, executive director of Ski N.H., the Conway-based organization of 33 alpine and cross-country ski centers.

“Last winter, we advised visitors to ‘Know Before You Go,’ and that advice holds for this year as well,” Keeler said last week.

“With the safety of guests, staff, and our communities our priority, we’ve compiled resources needed to make informed decisions this season.”

There is no single statewide standard for COVID-19 precautions, she said, but all New Hampshire ski areas are implementing numerous safety guidelines and protocols.

“Many practices that came into being last year are coming back this year, such as keeping base lodges free of ski bags. Many areas are providing storage lockers outside but not inside the lodges,” said Keeler. Masks are likely to be required for many indoor spaces as well.

“No matter where you plan to ski, plan ahead, bring a mask and a vaccination card if available, as some indoor facilities may require them,” Keeler said, noting that “a lot of ski areas will require people to wear masks inside except perhaps when dining — so plan on bringing a face mask with you for when you plan to go inside to dine or use the restrooms.”

Ski lifts will likely be loaded to capacity this year.

“Last year, you’ll recall that only members of a same group could board a lift together. This year, there might be some variations on gondolas. But generally, for regular chairlifts, you will be able to ride with people not in your group.

Keeler noted that Vail Resorts, owner of Attitash and Wildcat ski areas locally, has its own set of rules, “including checking the vaccination status for certain indoor cafeteria-style dining. Check with their websites,” said Keeler.

She said since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, ski areas benefited from the desire of people to get outside. Overall total winter visits (including alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and tubing visits) during the 2020-21 season totaled 2,295,424, which statistically mirrors the 10-year average.

A visit represents one person skiing or tubing for one day and includes ticketed guests (paid, complimentary, multi-day, group) and season passholder visits. This number was up 4 percent compared to the 2019-20 season, which was cut short by anywhere from two to four weeks for New Hampshire ski areas due to the pandemic.

Alpine skier visits alone were also up 5 percent over 2019-20 (to 2,066, 011) but down 3 percent compared to the 10-year alpine skier visits average. Cross-country skiing was down 10 percent (to 112,009) over the previous year, and 8 percent off the 10-year average, whereas snow tubing was up 1 percent (to 117,404) compared with 2019-20 and up 9 percent compared to the 10-year average.

“We saw people flocking to the mountains to hike the trails and paddle on our lakes and streams during the summer and fall months because recreating outside was considered one of the safer things people could do. We suspected that we might see that trend continue into the winter months and that there would be a high demand for alpine and cross-country skiing, and we weren’t wrong,” said Keeler.

She noted that while there were no state-mandated restrictions to the numbers of people who could ski last season, limitations on chairlift capacity and indoor lodge capacity resulted in many ski areas managing daily visits by limiting the numbers of tickets sold, and this impacted the overall skier visit tally.

“Overall, I’m really pleased with last season’s results, given all that our country was grappling with,” Keeler said. “In addition to pandemic challenges, we also had some challenging weather to contend with, so to end up having an ‘average’ season in a year that was anything but — that is truly remarkable.”

Winter was slow to come, Keeler said, and many ski areas opened a week or two later than planned. She said, “The extra time allowed the staff to fine tune those new operating practices.”

Moreover, with ski areas asking people to boot up in their cars and think of their vehicles as personal base lodges last winter, the relatively warm winter made this shift easier for people to handle. Warm weather at the end of the ski season also caused a couple of ski areas to close earlier than normal.

Keeler credited the collaborative efforts of the ski industry across the country in developing best practices to protect the health and safety of staff and visitors, and thanked Gov. Chris Sununu, the Department of Health & Human Services and those who served on the Governor’s Reopening Task Force for helping develop a usable set of guidelines that allowed them to be open and operating during a global pandemic.

“It’s a testament to the hard work of our industry and government leaders that not once did any New Hampshire ski areas have to shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak,” Keeler noted.

Looking to this season, Keeler said skiers can expect to find improved snowmaking, grooming, lifts and lodging, thanks to extensive capital investment across the state.

This article is being shared by a partner in the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.